Pountney Gardens

Samuel Pountney Smith
Samuel Pountney Smith (©Shropshire Archives)

Pountney Gardens, off Belle Vue Road, Shrewsbury, is named after Samuel Pountney Smith (1802 – 83) who built (and lived in) the Limes at the end of the road. Pountney Smith was born in Munslow, South Shropshire, and was apprenticed as a builder and architect to his uncle John Smalman at Quatford. [footnote 1] In 1840 he moved to Shrewsbury, and soon made a reputation as a master builder and architect.

In restoration work he was sympathetic to the style and surroundings of the building he was working with. The fact that so much of our Tudor heritage remains in the town owes at least something to his long-sightedness. He was best-known, however, as a church architect, since his architectural career coincided with a huge amount of church building and restoration. The reasons for this included increased church attendance, a rapidly growing population and the increasing wealth generated by the industrial revolution.

Shrewsbury Cemetery – spire in the Gothic style
Shrewsbury Cemetery – spire in the Gothic style

Two Shrewsbury churches that he worked on are St Mary’s and St Giles. In both of these he retained most of the existing structure and made additions and improvements in keeping with their architectural styles. The total cost of the alterations to St Mary’s (which he finished in 1865) was £2744 16s 5d. [footnote 2] He charged 5% for his services, so would have made about £137 – maybe £20,000 in today’s money. Although it was a good revenue stream, church building tended to be a slow process. For example, Pountney Smith first travelled to St Andrew’s Hope Bowdler in March 1859 to survey the old mediaeval church which was falling down and it had been decided to replace it. [footnote 3] He charged 10 shillings for his visit and submitted the plans just after Christmas. But the official wheels moved slowly, and it was not till March 1862 that he was required to produce detailed plans for the church, tower, surrounding walls and walks. Work started that October and finished in June 1863 – over 4 years from his first visit. The church cost £1215, so his fees of 5% were £61 10s, plus expenses of £74 7s, a total of only £135 17s spread over 4 years. In contrast to the spare perpendicular design at Hope Bowdler is the chapel at Shrewsbury Cemetery, designed by him in 1855 in an ornamental Gothic revival style.

Drawing of St Alkmund’s spire by Pountney Smith showing damage by wind or lightning (©Shropshire Archives)
Drawing of St Alkmund’s spire by Pountney Smith showing damage by wind or lightning (©Shropshire Archives)

In addition to being a busy architect, he was active in the affairs of the town, being a town councillor for many years and elected Mayor in 1873. His experience in practical matters made him such an invaluable member of the council that when he lost his seat in an election in 1876 he was nominated to become an alderman. [footnote 4] As chairman of the Improvements Committee he advocated changes such as the appointment of the first Medical Officer of Health (1874), the building of Greyfriars footbridge (1881), and the installation of a new sewerage system (eventually inaugurated in 1901). He was also a magistrate, in which role it was said that ‘he invariably displayed the greatest soundness of judgment, and a tendency to temper justice with mercy.’ [footnote 5]

Arches in Coleham School grounds
Arches in Coleham School grounds

As he became increasingly prosperous he was able to build for himself – first Oakley Manor, Belle Vue (until recently Council offices) and then the Limes (which used also to be public offices). He was a collector of disused architectural monuments and bric-a-brac, with which he beautified his large garden at the Limes. Much later the bottom of this garden, including his coach house and pond, was incorporated into the grounds of Coleham Primary School. Included in the garden was a large arched structure, so the school children are now able to go on imaginary journeys through the arches, courtesy of Samuel Pountney Smith!



[1] Biographical information from John L Hobbs, Samuel Pountney Smith and the Smalman Family, Shropshire Magazine, May 1960, pp.17-18; Michael Webb, Past Mayors of Shrewsbury, Samuel Pountney Smith, Shropshire Magazine, Feb 1980, p.24; Obituary of Samuel Pountney Smith, Eddowes Salopian Journal, Nov 7th 1883

[2] SA P257/B/11/7

[3] SA P136/B/2/16

[4] SA 665/4/496

[5] Obituary